Sunday, July 31, 2022

Fairy Falls

Ok, now we're paying a visit to the Columbia Gorge's Fairy Falls, a little 20' waterfall above Wahkeena Falls on a side branch of Wahkeena Creek. It isn't the tallest one, or the widest, or the loudest, or the most famous. It doesn't have the most water going over it; it doesn't have a weird name, or much in the way of historical anecdotes, or any of that. It's one of my favorites, though -- just look at it. Feel free to page through the photoset for a bit first and then come back to the post, if you want.

One of the many occasional projects I have going here is a very slow virtual trip around the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop trail, with a post about each waterfall along the route in (roughly) clockwise order. So with this post we've finally made it up and across the top of the loop and down into the Wahkeena Creek watershed, and Fairy Falls is the first one we encounter on the way down. These posts have tended to run away from me, ending up full of all sorts of irrelevant tangents that I don't quite have the heart to delete. But Fairy Falls here is not really a complicated place and this post ought to be relatively short by my usual standards. I've combed the history books and the usual sources online and whatnot, and here's what I've got about today's destination...

  • Back in the Upper Multnomah Falls post from last year I mentioned that a lot of guides to the Gorge insist there are exactly eight kinds of waterfall in the world, and go on to say that you can see five of the eight kinds right here along the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, and you can complete the set with a couple of other quick stops in the vicinity. So under that scheme, Fairy Falls is the canonical "fan-type" waterfall. There actually aren't many "fan-type" ones in the Gorge besides this one. In the wider region, the best-known example is probably Ramona Falls up near Mt. Hood. Something to keep in mind if you ever find yourself in a high-stakes "match the name to the waterfall photo" contest and need some easy points.

  • I'm not sure who named Fairy Falls or when, since I couldn't find any mentions of it at all from before the Columbia River Highway and Wahkeena Trail opened. And afterward, any references to it just used the current name like it had always been called that. Given the steep terrain in the area, it probably didn't get a lot of foot traffic before the trail went in, so my guess would be that they stumbled across it while laying out the trail, decided to route the trail right past the base of it for dramatic effect, and figured it would need to be called something, as a highlight of the trail.

    Fairy Falls was first mentioned by The Oregonian as part of a 1921 article covering all the fun new hiking options that were now available out in the Gorge.

    Meanwhile the Oregon Journal first mentioned Fairy Falls in a similar 1919 hiking article, suggesting it as a refreshing pit stop on your way down after doing the overnight hike up Larch Mountain to watch the sunrise. (This used to be a very popular hike, right up until they built a road to the top of Larch Mountain in 1937.)

  • I did find exactly one one example of someone calling it something besides "Fairy Falls", an undated photo with a caption calling it "Ghost Falls". The photo -- or at least the caption -- can't be any earlier than right around 1916 as it mentions the brand-new Columbia River Highway by name, and uses the new name "Wahkeena Falls" instead of the previous "Gordon Falls". No other examples have turned up besides this one so I don't think the name ever really caught on. Though if you squint just right the falls do kind of look like a ghost, of the ectoplasmic bedsheet variety. Given the politics of 1910s & 1920s Oregon, it's probably pure luck that nobody tried naming it "Grand Wizard Falls" or something, for reminding them of the Klan robes in their closets at home.

    Searching on the name "Ghost Falls" did come up with a couple of results elsewhere. The 1940 Federal Writers Project guide to Oregon claimed there was a Ghost Falls somewhere along the Eagle Creek Trail. That name obviously didn't stick either, and it's not even clear which falls they were referring to to since the guide didn't include a photo or a map. The same book also listed Punchbowl Falls as "The Devil's Punchbowl", which also didn't quite stick, maybe due to the famous Devil's Punchbowl out on the coast.

    Further afield, the search also returned an AllTrails hike page titled "Ghost Falls Trails via Bonneville Shoreline Trail", which sounds like something that would be in the Gorge, but it turns out to be for a Ghost Falls in Utah, and the shoreline in question was the shore of a vast former lake that existed during the last Ice Age, not the reservoir behind Bonneville Dam.

  • Switching gears again, in several posts now I've mentioned a 2016 study on aquatic insects in the gorge. Wahkeena Creek has a special significance in that particular area, as it has several endemic species that exist nowhere else in the universe. However Fairy Falls (or "Fairy Falls of the East Fork" as the doc likes to call it) is on a side tributary and is apparently not interesting from a bug standpoint. The study just mentions the falls briefly: "trail goes through stream near base of falls; after multiple collections at this site since 1989, no sensitive species have been encountered.". So it might be that any weird caddisflies or stoneflies that may have once been here were wiped out at some point due to hikers tromping right thru their habitat. But the main stem of the creek is unique in flowing out of a nearby underground spring, with water several degrees colder than the other streams in the area, and the endemic species might require those specific conditions, which the East Fork has never had.
  • Since Fairy Falls is one of the more photogenic waterfalls, it makes sense (to me) that there's a bit of recent classical music written about it, a piano solo for advanced students, one of several named after Gorge waterfalls by composer Ian Evans Guthrie. (The 'piano tune for...' link above goes to a page with a recording of the song, which seems to play in Firefox but not Chrome for whatever reason). If I didn't know it was recent, I could almost see it being composed for the Wahkeena Trail opening circa 1916. I say almost because the ending is probably a bit avant-garde for the conventional tastes of 1910s Portland.
  • Oh, and one other thing from the Oregonian database: The May 9th 1937 Oregonian ran a page of photos from along the Multnomah-Wahkeena trail, with the reporter's wife and kids in most of them for scale. The Fairy Falls photo just showed the falls, though, so it looked just the same as it does now. Which should be normal and expected, but somehow it feels like photos and films from 1937 ought to contain a bit more 1937-ness somehow. And I'm not 100% sure what I mean by that. Maybe hardboiled Mafia goons at the top of the falls, dangling a rival gangster over the edge by his ankles. Maybe German or Japanese or Soviet spies, barely visible in the underbrush, casing the joint and taking detailed notes for future reference in a few years' time. And maybe then our hero & heroine (Fred Astaire as a tap-dancing G-man, and plucky reporter / aspiring swimsuit model Esther Williams) show up, and suddenly the falls transform into a water slide and pool and an all-singing, all-dancing, all-swimming, all-tapping musical extravaganza breaks out, and the various bad guys soon try to slink away into the shadows, twirling their mustaches, but then a big pie fight breaks out, and in the end they're defeated by the sheer power of Hollywood movie magic, and everyone lives happily ever after. The End.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Montgomery Pride

In a post back in January I mentioned something about there being another City Repair street mural on a closed section of SW Montgomery St., on the Portland State campus, which I was bound to do a post about sooner or later. So here are a few photos of Montgomery Pride, on the block of Montgomery between 6th & Broadway. The blurb for it on the City Repair project map describes it as "a design pattern that celebrates LGBTQ Pride, the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, and Marsha P. Johnson" and the 2019 painting of it as "an event that would bring together the LGBTQ community, Urban Planning community, and the PSU community to turn an unattractive street into an enriching temporary public event space."

The street closure happened as part of the university's major renovations to the business school building next door. The business school was the newest and swankiest building on campus when I was a student circa 1990 -- a student environmental group I was involved with tried to schedule meetings there, strictly for the nice cushy chairs -- but it couldn't compete with the new engineering school buildings, facilities-wise, and that simply wouldn't do. But there's always donor money available for re-swank-ifying business schools, and the one at PSU has reclaimed its rightful place as the newest, shiniest, swankiest, most blindingly metallic edifice on campus. Across Montgomery, for contrast, is the brutalist University Services Building, built in 1970 and seemingly unchanged since then (except for some late-2000s public art on the east side of the building).